AppearanceDomestic cats are similar in size to the other members of the genus ''Felis'', typically weighing between 4–5 kg . However, some breeds, such as the Maine Coon, can occasionally exceed 11 kg . Conversely, very small cats ) have been reported. The world record for the largest cat is 21.3 kg . The smallest adult cat ever officially recorded weighed around 1.36 kg . Feral cats tend to be lighter as they have more limited access to food than house cats. In the Boston area, the average feral adult male will scale 3.9 kg and average feral female 3.3 kg . Cats average about 23–25 cm in height and 46 cm in head/body length , with tails averaging 30 cm in length.
Cats have seven cervical vertebrae as do almost all mammals; 13 thoracic vertebrae ; seven lumbar vertebrae ; three sacral vertebrae like most mammals ; and a variable number of caudal vertebrae in the tail .:11 The extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat's spinal mobility and flexibility. Attached to the spine are 13 ribs, the shoulder, and the pelvis. :16 Unlike human arms, cat forelimbs are attached to the shoulder by free-floating clavicle bones which allow them to pass their body through any space into which they can fit their heads.
The cat skull is unusual among mammals in having very large eye sockets and a powerful and specialized jaw.:35 Within the jaw, cats have teeth adapted for killing prey and tearing meat. When it overpowers its prey, a cat delivers a lethal neck bite with its two long canine teeth, inserting them between two of the prey's vertebrae and severing its spinal cord, causing irreversible paralysis and death. Compared to other felines, domestic cats have narrowly spaced canine teeth, which is an adaptation to their preferred prey of small rodents, which have small vertebrae. The premolar and first molar together compose the carnassial pair on each side of the mouth, which efficiently shears meat into small pieces, like a pair of scissors. These are vital in feeding, since cats' small molars cannot chew food effectively.:37
Cats, like dogs, are digitigrades. They walk directly on their toes, with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of the visible leg. Cats are capable of walking very precisely, because like all felines they directly register; that is, they place each hind paw directly in the print of the corresponding forepaw, minimizing noise and visible tracks. This also provides sure footing for their hind paws when they navigate rough terrain. Unlike most mammals, when cats walk, they use a "pacing" gait; that is, they move the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other side. This trait is shared with camels and giraffes. As a walk speeds up into a trot, a cat's gait will change to be a "diagonal" gait, similar to that of most other mammals : the diagonally opposite hind and forelegs will move simultaneously.
Like almost all members of the Felidae family, cats have protractable and retractable claws. In their normal, relaxed position the claws are sheathed with the skin and fur around the paw's toe pads. This keeps the claws sharp by preventing wear from contact with the ground and allows the silent stalking of prey. The claws on the forefeet are typically sharper than those on the hind feet. Cats can voluntarily extend their claws on one or more paws. They may extend their claws in hunting or self-defense, climbing, kneading, or for extra traction on soft surfaces. Most cats have five claws on their front paws, and four on their rear paws. The fifth front claw is proximal to the other claws. More proximally, there is a protrusion which appears to be a sixth "finger". This special feature of the front paws, on the inside of the wrists, is the carpal pad, also found on the paws of big cats and of dogs. It has no function in normal walking, but is thought to be an anti-skidding device used while jumping. Some breeds of cats are prone to polydactyly . These are particularly common along the northeast coast of North America.
NamingThe English word ''cat'' is in origin a loanword, introduced to many languages of Europe from Latin ''cattus'' and Byzantine Greek , including Portuguese and Spanish ''gato'', French ''chat'', German ''Katze'', Lithuanian ''katė'' and Old Church Slavonic ''kotka'', among others. The ultimate source of the word is Afroasiatic, presumably from Late Egyptian ''čaute'', the feminine of ''čaus'' "wildcat". The word was introduced, together with the domestic animal itself, to the Roman Republic by the 1st century BC.
An alternative word with cognates in many languages is English ''puss'' . Attested only from the 16th century, it may have been introduced from Dutch ''poes'' or from Low German ''puuskatte'', related to Swedish ''kattepus'', or Norwegian ''pus'', ''pusekatt''. Similar forms exist in Lithuanian ''puižė'' and Irish ''puisín''. The etymology of this word is unknown, but it may have simply arisen from a sound used to attract a cat.
A group of cats is referred to as a "clowder" or a "glaring", a male cat is called a "tom" or "tomcat" , an unaltered female is called a "queen", and a pre-pubescent juvenile is referred to as a "kitten". Although spayed females have no commonly used name, in some rare instances immature or spayed females are referred to as a "molly". The male progenitor of a cat, especially a pedigreed cat, is its "sire", and its female progenitor is its "dam". In Early Modern English, the word ''kitten'' was interchangeable with the now-obsolete word ''catling''.
A pedigreed cat is one whose ancestry is recorded by a cat fancier organization. A purebred cat is one whose ancestry contains only individuals of the same breed. Many pedigreed and especially purebred cats are exhibited as show cats. Cats of unrecorded, mixed ancestry are referred to as domestic short-haired or domestic long-haired cats, by coat type, or commonly as random-bred, moggies , or mongrels or mutt-cats.
While the African wildcat is the ancestral subspecies from which domestic cats are descended, and wildcats and domestic cats can completely interbreed, there are several intermediate stages between domestic pet and pedigree cats on the one hand and those entirely wild animals on the other. The semi-feral cat is a mostly outdoor cat that is not owned by any one individual, but is generally friendly to people and may be fed by several households. Feral cats are associated with human habitation areas and may be fed by people or forage in rubbish, but are typically wary of human interaction.To date, there are few scientific data available to assess the impact of cat predation on prey populations. Even well-fed domestic cats may hunt and kill, mainly catching small mammals, but also birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and invertebrates. Hunting by domestic cats may be contributing to the decline in the numbers of birds in urban areas, although the importance of this effect remains controversial. In the wild, the introduction of feral cats during human settlement can threaten native species with extinction. In many cases controlling or eliminating the populations of non-native cats can produce a rapid recovery in native animals. However, the ecological role of introduced cats can be more complicated. For example, cats can control the numbers of rats, which also prey on birds' eggs and young, so a cat population can protect an endangered bird species by suppressing mesopredators.
In the Southern Hemisphere, cats are a particular problem in landmasses such as Australasia, where cat species have never been native and there were few equivalent native medium-sized mammalian predators. Native species such as the New Zealand Kakapo and the Australian Bettong, for example, tend to be more ecologically vulnerable and behaviorally "naive" to predation by feral cats. Feral cats have had a major impact on these native species and have played a leading role in the endangerment and extinction of many animals.
Cat numbers in the UK are growing and their abundance is far above the "natural" carrying capacity, because their population sizes are independent of their prey's dynamics: i.e. cats are "recreational" hunters, with other food sources. Population densities can be as high as 2,000 individuals per km2 and the trend is an increase of 0.5 million cats annually.
BehaviorFree-ranging cats are active both day and night, although they tend to be slightly more active at night. The timing of cats' activity is quite flexible and varied, which means that house cats may be more active in the morning and evening , as a response to greater human activity at these times. Although they spend the majority of their time in the vicinity of their home, housecats can range many hundreds of meters from this central point, and are known to establish territories that vary considerably in size, in one study ranging from 7 to 28 hectares .
Cats conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, especially as they grow older. The daily duration of sleep varies, usually 12–16 hours, with 13–14 being the average. Some cats can sleep as much as 20 hours in a 24-hour period. The term "cat nap" for a short rest refers to the cat's tendency to fall asleep for a brief period. While asleep, cats experience short periods of rapid eye movement sleep often accompanied by muscle twitches, which suggests that they are dreaming.
HabitatCats are a cosmopolitan species and are found across much of the world. Geneticist Stephen James O'Brien, of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, remarked on how successful cats have been in evolutionary terms: "Cats are one of evolution's most charismatic creatures. They can live on the highest mountains and in the hottest deserts." They are extremely adaptable and are now present on all continents except Antarctica, and on 118 of the 131 main groups of islands—even on sub-Antarctic islands such as the Kerguelen Islands.
Feral cats can live in forests, grasslands, tundra, coastal areas, agricultural land, scrublands, urban areas and wetlands. Their habitats even include small oceanic islands with no human inhabitants. Further, the close relatives of domestic cats, the African wildcat and the Arabian sand cat both inhabit desert environments, and domestic cats still show similar adaptations and behaviors. The cat's ability to thrive in almost any terrestrial habitat has led to its designation as one of the world's worst invasive species.
ReproductionFemale cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they may have many periods of heat over the course of a year, the season beginning in spring and ending in late autumn. Heat periods occur about every two weeks and last about 4 to 7 days. Multiple males will be attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her, and the victor wins the right to mate. At first, the female will reject the male, but eventually the female will allow the male to mate. The female will utter a loud yowl as the male pulls out of her. This is because a male cat's penis has a band of about 120–150 backwards-pointing penile spines, which are about one millimeter long; upon withdrawal of the penis, the spines rake the walls of the female's vagina, which is a trigger for ovulation. This act also occurs to clear the vagina of other sperm in the context of a second mating, thus giving the later males a larger chance of conception.
After mating, the female will wash her vulva thoroughly. If a male attempts to mate with her at this point, the female will attack him. After about 20 to 30 minutes, once the female is finished grooming, the cycle will repeat.
Because ovulation is not always triggered by a single mating, females may not be impregnated by the first male with which they mate. Furthermore, cats are superfecund; that is, a female may mate with more than one male when she is in heat, with the result that different kittens in a litter may have different fathers.
At 124 hours post conception the morula forms. At 148 hours early blastocysts form. At 10–12 days implantation occurs.
The gestation period for cats is between 64 and 67 days, with an average length of 66 days. The size of a litter averages three to five kittens, with the first litter usually smaller than subsequent litters. Kittens are weaned at between six and seven weeks, and cats normally reach sexual maturity at 5–10 months and to 5–7 months , although this can vary depending on breed. Females can have two to three litters per year, so may produce up to 150 kittens in their breeding span of around ten years.
Cats are ready to go to new homes at about 12 weeks of age, when they are ready to leave their mother. Cats can be surgically sterilized as early as 7 weeks to limit unwanted reproduction. This surgery also prevents undesirable sex-related behavior, such as aggression, territory marking in males and yowling in females. Traditionally, this surgery was performed at around six to nine months of age, but it is increasingly being performed prior to puberty, at about three to six months. In the US, approximately 80% of household cats are neutered.
FoodCats hunt small prey, primarily birds and rodents, and are often used as a form of pest control. Domestic cats are a major predator of wildlife in the United States killing an estimated 1.4–3.7 billion birds and 6.9–20.7 billion mammals annually. The bulk of the predation the United States is done by 80 million feral and stray cats. Effective measures to reduce this population are elusive, meeting opposition from cat enthusiasts. In the case of free ranging pets, equipping cats with bells and not letting them out at night will reduce wildlife predation. Feral cats and house cats that are free-fed tend to consume many small meals in a single day, although the frequency and size of meals varies between individuals. Cats use two hunting strategies, either stalking prey actively, or waiting in ambush until an animal comes close enough to be captured. Although it is not certain, the type of strategy used may depend on the prey species in the area, with for example, cats waiting in ambush outside burrows, but tending to actively stalk birds.:153
Most breeds of cat have a noted fondness for settling in high places, or perching. In the wild, a higher place may serve as a concealed site from which to hunt; domestic cats may strike prey by pouncing from such a perch as a tree branch, as does a leopard. Other possible explanations include that height gives the cat a better observation point, allowing it to survey its territory. During a fall from a high place, a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and flexibility. This is known as the cat righting reflex. An individual cat always rights itself in the same way, provided it has the time to do so, during a fall. The height required for this to occur is around 90 cm . Cats without a tail also have this ability, since a cat mostly moves its hind legs and relies on conservation of angular momentum to set up for landing, and the tail is in fact little used for this feat. This leads to the proverb "a cat always lands on its feet".
One poorly understood element of cat hunting behavior is the presentation of prey to human guardians. Ethologist Paul Leyhausen proposed that cats adopt humans into their social group, and share excess kill with others in the group according to the local pecking order, in which humans are placed at or near the top. Anthropologist and zoologist Desmond Morris, in his 1986 book ''Catwatching'', suggests that when cats bring home mice or birds, they are attempting to teach their human to hunt, or trying to help their human as if feeding "an elderly cat, or an inept kitten". Morris's theory is inconsistent with the fact that male cats also bring home prey, despite males having no involvement with raising kittens.:153
Domestic cats select food based on its temperature, smell and texture, strongly disliking chilled foods and responding most strongly to moist foods rich in amino acids, which are similar to meat. Cats may reject novel flavors and learn quickly to avoid foods that have tasted unpleasant in the past. They may also avoid sugary foods and milk; since they are lactose intolerant, these sugars are not easily digested and may cause soft stools or diarrhea. They can also develop odd eating habits. Some cats like to eat or chew on other things, most commonly wool, but also plastic, paper, string, aluminum foil/Christmas tree tinsel, or even coal. This condition is called pica and can threaten their health, depending on the amount and toxicity of the items eaten.
Since cats cannot fully close their lips around something to create suction, they use a lapping method with the tongue to draw liquid upwards into their mouths. Lapping at a rate of four times a second, the cat touches the smooth tip of its tongue to the surface of the water, and quickly retracts it, drawing water upwards.
EvolutionThe felids are a rapidly evolving family of mammals that share a common ancestor only 10–15 million years ago, and include, in addition to the domestic cat, lions, tigers, cougars, and many others. Within this family, domestic cats are part of the genus ''Felis'', which is a group of small cats containing approximately seven species . Members of the genus are found worldwide and include the jungle cat of southeast Asia, European wildcat , African wildcat , the Chinese mountain cat , and the Arabian sand cat , among others.
All the cats in this genus share a common ancestor that probably lived around 6–7 million years ago in Asia. The exact relationships within the Felidae are close but still uncertain, e.g. the Chinese mountain cat is sometimes classified as a subspecies of the wildcat, like the North African variety ''F. s. lybica''. As domestic cats are little altered from wildcats, they can readily interbreed. This hybridization poses a danger to the genetic distinctiveness of wildcat populations, particularly in Scotland and Hungary, and possibly also the Iberian Peninsula.
The domestic cat was first classified as ''Felis catus'' by Carolus Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his ''Systema Naturae'' in 1758. However, because of modern phylogenetics, domestic cats are now usually regarded as another subspecies of the wildcat, ''Felis silvestris''. This has resulted in mixed usage of the terms, as the domestic cat can be called by its subspecies name, ''Felis silvestris catus''. Wildcats have also been referred to as various subspecies of ''F. catus'', but in 2003 the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature fixed the name for wildcats as ''F. silvestris''. The most common name in use for the domestic cat remains ''F. catus'', following a convention for domesticated animals of using the earliest synonym proposed. Sometimes the domestic cat has been called ''Felis domesticus'' or ''Felis domestica'', as proposed by German naturalist J. C. P. Erxleben in 1777, but these are not valid taxonomic names and have been used only rarely in scientific literature, because Linnaeus's binomial takes precedence.
Cats have either a mutualistic or commensal relationship with humans. However, in comparison to dogs, cats have not undergone major changes during the domestication process, as the form and behavior of the domestic cat are not radically different from those of wildcats, and domestic cats are perfectly capable of surviving in the wild. This limited evolution during domestication means that domestic cats tend to interbreed freely with wild relatives, distinguishing them from other domesticated animals. Fully domesticated house cats also often interbreed with feral ''F. catus'' populations. However, several natural behaviors and characteristics of wildcats may have pre-adapted them for domestication as pets. These traits include their small size, social nature, obvious body language, love of play, and relatively high intelligence;:12–17 they may also have an inborn tendency towards tameness.
There are two main theories about how cats were domesticated. In one, people deliberately tamed cats in a process of artificial selection, as they were useful predators of vermin. However, this has been criticized as implausible, because there may have been little reward for such an effort: cats generally do not carry out commands and, although they do eat rodents, other species such as ferrets or terriers may be better at controlling these pests. The alternative idea is that cats were simply tolerated by people and gradually diverged from their wild relatives through natural selection, as they adapted to hunting the vermin found around humans in towns and villages.
There is a population of Transcaucasian Black feral cats once classified as ''Felis daemon'' , but now this population is considered to be a part of domestic cat.Traditionally, historians tended to think that ancient Egypt was the site of cat domestication, owing to the clear depictions of house cats in Egyptian paintings about 3,600 years old. However, in 2004, a Neolithic grave was excavated in Shillourokambos, Cyprus, that contained the skeletons, laid close to one another, of both a human and a cat. The grave is estimated to be 9,500 years old, pushing back the earliest known feline–human association significantly. The cat specimen is large and closely resembles the African wildcat , rather than present-day domestic cats. This discovery, combined with genetic studies, suggest that cats were probably domesticated in the Middle East, in the Fertile Crescent around the time of the development of agriculture and then they were brought to Cyprus and Egypt.
Direct evidence for the domestication of cats 5,300 years ago in Quanhucun in China has been published by researchers. The cats are believed to have been attracted to the village by rodents which in turn were attracted by grain cultivated and stored by humans.
In ancient Egypt cats were sacred animals, with the goddess Bastet often depicted in cat form, sometimes taking on the warlike aspect of a lioness.:220 The Romans are often credited with introducing the domestic cat from Egypt to Europe;:223 in Roman Aquitaine, a 1st or 2nd century epitaph of a young girl holding a cat is one of two earliest depictions of the Roman domesticated cat. However, it is possible that cats were already kept in Europe prior to the Roman Empire, as they may have already been present in Britain in the late Iron Age. Domestic cats were spread throughout much of the rest of the world during the Age of Discovery, as they were carried on sailing ships to control shipboard rodents and as good-luck charms.:223
Several ancient religions believed that cats are exalted souls, companions or guides for humans, that they are all-knowing but are mute so they cannot influence decisions made by humans. In Japan, the ''maneki neko'' is a cat that is a symbol of good fortune. Although there are no sacred species in Islam, cats are revered by Muslims. Some writers have stated that Muhammad had a favorite cat, Muezza. He is reported to have loved cats so much that "he would do without his cloak rather than disturb one that was sleeping on it".
Freyja—the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility in Norse mythology—is depicted as riding a chariot drawn by cats.
Many cultures have negative superstitions about cats. An example would be the belief that a black cat "crossing one's path" leads to bad luck, or that cats are witches' familiars used to augment a witch's powers and skills. The killing of cats in Medieval Ypres, Belgium is commemorated in the innocuous present-day Kattenstoet .
According to a myth in many cultures, cats have multiple lives. In many countries, they are believed to have nine lives, but in Italy, Germany, Greece and some Spanish-speaking regions they are said to have seven lives, while in Turkish and Arabic traditions the number of lives is six. The myth is attributed to the natural suppleness and swiftness cats exhibit to escape life-threatening situations. Also lending credence to this myth is the fact that falling cats often land on their feet, using an instinctive righting reflex to twist their bodies around. Nonetheless, cats can still be injured or killed by a high fall.
Some text fragments are auto parsed from Wikipedia.